Military Members Are Now Being Tested for Deadly Synthetic Drug Fentanyl

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David Barajas, Armed Forces Medical Examiner System Forensic Toxicology analytical toxicologist 2, prepares a vial for testing October 31, 2019 at the AFMES Forensic Toxicology lab. (U.S. Air Force/Staff Sgt. Nicole Leidholm)
David Barajas, Armed Forces Medical Examiner System Forensic Toxicology analytical toxicologist 2, prepares a vial for testing October 31, 2019 at the AFMES Forensic Toxicology lab. (U.S. Air Force/Staff Sgt. Nicole Leidholm)

Service members are now being tested for fentanyl and norfentanyl during random urine tests, the Department of Defense announced recently.

After seeing increased use of the synthetic opioid pain reliever in the civilian sector, the DoD added fentanyl to the standard drug testing panel and began testing in June.

Navy Capt. Eric R. Welsh, the DoD Office of Drug Demand Reduction director, said in a statement that the DoD made the decision after looking at the potency and lethality of the drug.

"Robust, frequent and random drug testing of our personnel is one of our greatest weapons against drug use," Welsh said in a news release. "Even though the Department tests for more drugs than ever before, the positive rate was the lowest observed in 20 years at 0.84 percent."

Related: Drug Screen to Enter Military Just Got Tougher

In 2017, about 28,400 people died from fentanyl and other synthetic opioid overdoses, the Centers for Disease Control estimated. The narcotic is anywhere from 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine and used pharmaceutically for treating severe pains like advanced cancer.

"Very small quantities of fentanyl can have significant effects," said U.S. Navy Lt. Cmdr. Katherine Dozier, Armed Forces Medical Examiner System Special Forensic Toxicology Drug Testing Laboratory chief. "The illicit drug trade is aware of this, and has used fentanyl to cheaply adulterate heroin, cocaine, and other illicit drugs to enhance effects."

A service member's urine sample will undergo a couple round confirming a positive result. If it tests positive, the Drug Demand Reduction Program lab staff will check the member's medical record for prescription use of fentanyl or norfentanyl.

If there is no medical documentation substantiating a positive test, the unit commander will meet with the service member and provide written notice of the positive result. The member will then have 30 days to produce medical records or any other documentation to justify the presence of fentanyl.

"The DDRP directly impacts mission readiness," Pamela Iseminger, 436th Air Wing DDRP manager, said in a release. "It acts as the focal point for installation level drug urinalysis testing and drug prevention programs and ensures a work place free of illicit drugs use and provides a mission-ready fighting force at all times."

-- Dorothy Mills-Gregg can be reached at dorothy.mills-gregg@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at DMillsGregg.

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